Crispy Gamer

Games for Lunch: Serious Sam HD

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Developer: CroTeam
Publisher: Devolver Digital
Release Date: Jan. 13, 2010
System: Xbox 360 (reviewed), PC
ESRB Rating: M
Official Web site

0:00 I've never actually played the original version of this FPS classic, but I've heard it compared to the original DOOM, which is one of my favorites of the genre. Looking forward to seeing what the fuss is about.

0:01 Bongo music behind a slow panning shot of an ornate Egyptian temple, with a praying cat/monkey-god statue out front. The music goes out as I come to a menu screen.

0:02 How to play: "Kill bad guys!" Seems simple enough. There's some stuff about weapons and strafing and health packs too, but really, "kill all enemies" is remarkably concise.

0:03 The options screen has a setting for blood and gore that includes a "hippie" option. OK, I have to find out what that means. I can customize the look of the crosshair too, a nice, if a tad ridiculous, touch.

0:04 Let's start a single-player game. My scenario options are "Egypt" and "Demo." Uh, Egypt ... I guess. The first level is oddly named "Hatshepsut." I can choose from a ridiculous number of difficulties: Tourist, Easy, Normal, Hard, Serious or Mental (which is locked). As the difficulties go up, so does the score multiplier. Nice to have some incentive to challenge yourself. I choose Normal, which is described as "for experienced FPS players."

0:05 A Green computer terminal tells me "WELCOME TO NETRICSA -- NEuroTRonically Implanted Combat Situation Analyzer." Duh! It will guide me and ID strange artifacts and enemies and such. OK then.

0:06 "At the dawn of the 21st century mankind makes a startling discovery." An ancient, technologically advanced civilization hidden below ruins of other ancient civilizations. Their tech lets us get to the far reaches of the universe. But it's "too perfect to last." In 2104, monsters from another dimension attack, and nothing can stop them. We're beaten back to our own solar system. Sam "Serious" Stone is a legendary fighter and a symbol of resistance. Now, Earth is finally under direct attack, and humanity faces annihilation." Humanity has found a time-lock that can send a single person back in time. "The choice is obvious." That's ... a long way to go for time-travel justification.

Serious Sam HD

0:08 In Dayr El-Bahri, Egypt, sometime in the past (I didn't catch the date). A desert mesa gives way to ancient Egyptian temple. Fade to night ... lanterns go on and ... a rainstorm? In the desert? '90s-era synth music reminds me of Deus Ex as Sam appears hovering over a big black platform crackling with electricity. He falls to Earth with an "ugh."

0:10 NETRICSA gives me a description of HATSHEPSUT. She was a female Egyptian ruler. The time travel caused the rainstorm, apparently. I skim the rest of a long-ass story about ancient cities Memphis and Thebes and a riot over religion and magic powers. Look, I really don't care. Let's shoot stuff.

0:11 "Ready for battle," Sam growls, awkwardly holding a colt pistol in front of him. My first enemy appears as dark blob against the thin lights behind him. I sidestep his slow yellow energy attack and take him out with a couple of pistol shots.

0:13 I pick up another pistol ... now I've got one for each hand. Tapping the fire button once fires both pistols. I'm not sure I like that ... what if I only want to use one shot?

0:14 Oh, so the "hippie" option replaces all the blood with flowers and the "gibs" with carrots and pumpkins. It's so ridiculous ... I love it!

0:15 I wander down a corridor only to face a huge, headless, one-eyed goblin thing that chases me back. I empty a few clips into him as I retreat, falling down some unseen elevator shaft at the end. More bad guys down here, and the cyclops somehow followed me too. I'm down to 54 health.

0:17 I fall back down the elevator shaft to see if I missed any secrets. As I land, the elevator starts rising, crushing me against the lip of the door. "Game over. Press fire to load the last saved game." Wha? Good thing I quicksave constantly.

0:18 Now that I know cyclops is coming, I manage to take him out easily and quickly. "It's all fun and games until someone loses an eye," Sam deadpans.

0:19 I skip the elevator and head for a huge rectangular room with a shimmering pool in the center. The water effects are off-puttingly nice, especially compared to the generally blocky characters elsewhere in the game.

0:21 Enemies stream out of a nearby door the second I pick up a "single shotgun." The big cyclopes are joined by a few mini, purple cyclopes and a few grenade throwers. When they're done, a skeletal horse comes leaping at me. The shotgun has some nice power to it, and a satisfying reload between each shot.

0:22 The computer tells me that skeleton horse is actually a Kleer Skeleton. They're "an extinct race on the planet Kleer." Um ... I don't think they're extinct. Unless I just shot the last one, that is.

0:22 Walking through a big door, into a black room, I get 10 Achievement points as a "Serious Beginner." My score of 6624. Is that good? I only got 23 of 58 possible kills. I bet a lot of them were in that elevator room. I went way over the five-minute "estimated" playing time, so no bonus points. I could see this being a lot of fun for speed-running, perfecting stats, etc.

0:24 The game loads me up with shells before sending me into a desert valley. Over a ridge, a headless guy holding two bombs in his outstretched arms screams as he runs toward me at full speed. He explodes as I shoot him, obviously. "Aaaaaa yourself!" Sam screams back at the exploded corpse. Of course, dozens more bombers follow him over the ridge. "Uh oh!" says Sam. I'm way too slow with my aim and quite a few bombers manage to explode right next to me. I'm down to 17 health? Yipes! Let's reload that last quicksave...

0:27 This time I let the chargers clump together before shooting them, causing a chain-reaction explosion and saving me loads of time. This time I get through unscathed. Whoo! Gotta save that progress...

0:28 The music changes abruptly as I enter another Egyptian-ish tomb. Two skeleton horses jump out from the mist in a move that would be terrifying if it weren't so obviously telegraphed.

0:29 I hear more kamikaze bombers screaming, but I don't actually see the guys. "I'm over here! You stupid headless freaks!" Sam yells. Why would you yell that?

0:30 Some shiny items down a long corridor. Of course, as soon as I approach them a big boulder falls in my path and rolls toward me. I back up as fast as I can, just narrowly avoiding death. Sam whistles the Indiana Jones theme. I actually laugh out loud at that.

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0:31 After taking out a few more headless screamers, a plague of large purple frogs rains down! The shotgun reload is way too slow, so I switch to the dual pistols and take them out relatively easily. I'm liking the extreme variety in enemies so far.

0:35 Outside again, I walk for a health pickup when the ground and the controller start to rumble. I look around for the source and suddenly I'm dead. I never saw what killed me. Was it another boulder?

0:36 This time I look up slightly as I go for the health pick up. Sure enough, there's the boulder, which I easily sidestep. How did I miss that before? It couldn't POSSIBLY be my own fault. I blame bad game design.

0:37 The ground rumbles again as a large, yellow, bull-like creature charges at me. He's fast, but he can't change directions well, so a quick sidestep is all I need to watch it fly past me harmlessly.

0:38 The obligatory level-ending flood of monsters is headed up by a blue mech firing blue lasers. Quite a change from the demonic monsters thus far, but he's not too tough to bring down.

Serious Sam HD

0:39 In a cut scene now, walking down into ANOTHER tomb and finding a crystal ball. Sam picks it up in third-person and it shimmers unconvincingly. Fade to black and the statistics screen. The time bonus brings me up to 93,950 points for the level. I got a much better 100/122 kills, but 0/6 secrets? I'm not looking hard enough, I guess.

0:40 "Capturing the first element was quite easy," says the computer screen. The next level, the Tomb of Ramses II, is "nothing you can't handle," I'm told. But I should "be careful about your every step." Does anyone actually read this crap?

0:41 "Secret place has been found!" by jumping around next to a steep-sloped wall and somehow making it up to the ledge. Lots of armor and shells. Also, a floating, purple head that's like a friendlier looking version of the DOOM Cacodemon. If there's an idea this game didn't steal directly from Doom, I have yet to find it.

0:43 Enemies have an annoying habit of sneaking up behind me in corridors. It's hard to make out their screaming from the other screaming that seems ever-present in the background music.

0:47 A large, empty room has a few health pickups, and then five skeleton horses appear out of nowhere. I'm getting pretty good at dodging them, though, and they're not too good about turning around quickly. Ho hum.

0:49 I'm trapped in a narrow hallway as a huge yellow scorpion appears. He has the head of a human and the chain gun of an ... uh ... chain gun. His height means I can shoot over the little purple cyclopes and take him out.

0:51 I've encountered three more of the giant yellow arachnoids in the last two minutes! At least now that I'm out of the hallway, I can dodge their highly predictable on/off attack cycle.

0:53 Good use of the third dimension as generic, purple-shirted enemies rain down attacks from above while skeleton horses attack from the ground level.

0:57 I spent the last four minutes trying to get to a heart-container item. I can see it just over a nearby short wall, but to get to it I have to go up some spiral staircases and along some beams and I always seem to lose my way and fall back to the floor. I eventually convince myself it's not worth it and that I should just move on.

0:59 OK, the game is kind of unfair here, surrounding me with materializing enemies just as I enter a stairwell. Seriously, shouldn't the enemies have to stand around and wait for me? Why do they get to warp in?

Would I play this game for more than an hour? Yes.
Why? I'm really feeling the old-school shooting action. So much more straightforward than a bloated game like Modern Warfare 2, and to me, just more fun.

This column is based on a preview build of the Xbox 360 game provided by the publisher and played on a debug console.

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